Innovation should be viewed as a skill, not as a gift reserved only for special or uniquely-talented people. Innovation can be learned as with any business skill such as finance, process excellence, or leadership.
The key to becoming extremely effective at innovation is to learn all the tools and templates that help create an initial, undefined construct, or what innovation researchers call "the pre-inventive form." This ability to apply a template, then find a useful purpose for the for what comes out of that template is what allows one to innovate on demand. Templates "make" people innovate.
People often ask when is the best time to innovate: early in the pipeline process, middle, or late. Teams tend to resist innovation late in the process when they are busy launching a new product. Teams tend to resist innovating in the middle of the NPD process because they are too busy developing the next generation product. Teams tend to resist innovating early in the process because they are too busy developing franchise strategy. So when is the best time to innovate? Anytime.
When you innovate on a regular basis, you create another problem for yourself...how to evaluate new product ideas to see which ones to pursue. Evan Williams has outlined a useful set of criteria to do just that in his article: "Will it Fly? How to Evaluate a New Product Idea." He has even applied the criteria to some of his own creations like Blogger and Twitter.
What about adoption of ideas of others inside your organization? Innovators faces a particularly challenging issue getting colleagues to accept their ideas. Tanya Menon from the University of Chicago describes the paradox of an external idea being viewed as "tempting" while the exact same idea, coming from an internal source, is considered "tainted."
The Marketing Science Institute has formed a new Innovation Roundtable to explore common issues and challenges in the world of corporate innovation. The roundtable representatives are from Johnson & Johnson, GE, P&G, Diageo, Eastman Kodak, AT&T, Kraft, Merck, Thompson Healthcare, Praxair, Aetna, and General Mills.
I've come full circle on the notion of improvisation as a source of innovation. I just finished a three day improv training program at The Second City to try to find direct application to corporate growth. I found it.
From my experience, there are two choices in how to fund innovation: invention or development. Invention means the actual genesis of the idea, usually through a concentrated effort or workshop using a proven method. Development is what you do with the ideas that have commercial merit. Both take time and money. The choice depends on whether you think spending the money to generate ideas will yield more than a pool of funds to invest the ideas that you already have.